The season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, gets under way at the Chicagoland Speedway with the GEICO 400 on Sept. 15. But Chicago’s famous Navy Pier will already be buzzing with excitement and activity four days before the green flag drops to start the big race. On Sept. 11, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., dozens of volunteers — many of them fans of Jeff Gordon and the Drive to End Hunger campaign that all NASCAR followers know well from the #24 Chevrolet paint scheme — will work tirelessly to pack boxes of food providing some 25,000 meals for older residents of Illinois struggling with hunger.
As with so many events in the ongoing Drive to End Hunger effort to fight food insecurity among seniors, partnerships between local, “on the ground” providers and national organizations are making this good work possible. In Chicago, AARP and AARP Foundation are teaming up with the International Speedway Corporation (Chicagoland Speedway’s parent company) and Hillshire Brands to provide meals for the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which serves 13 counties in and around Chicago. Hillshire Brands is donating $20,000 and an entire semi-truckload of food for the meal-packing event. And AARP Foundation itself will be handing over a check for $50,000 to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
The statistic bears frequent repeating and remains jaw-dropping: Nearly 9 million seniors in America suffer from food insecurity, which typically means they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or whether they will be able to have that next meal at all. As Pete Schaefer, president and CEO of the Northern Illinois Food Bank, puts it, “Drive to End Hunger reminds us that there are many older adults who are finding themselves making choices they never thought they would have to make, such as paying for their mortgage or buying medicine, paying utility bills or buying food.”
As grim as that reality is, there is reason to hope. Throughout the 2013 racing season, all 13 ISC tracks have been donating extra food from race weekends on behalf of Drive to End Hunger. Since ISC began working with AARP and AARP Foundation in 2011, the collaboration has yielded more than 70,000 pounds of food for local food banks near ISC tracks. That’s about 54,000 meals going to those at risk. Overall, Drive to End Hunger has provided more than 7 million meals in 2013 alone — and more than 23 million meals since the campaign began in 2011.
Hope and reality continue to motivate everyone involved with Drive to End Hunger, from national leaders like AARP Foundation President Jo Ann Jenkins to all those volunteers whose willing hands will be stuffing bags full of nutritious food on Navy Pier. “Being a part of this effort,” notes Jenkins, “means that more older adults who struggle with hunger will get access to the food they need.” No matter where their favorite driver finishes in the Chase for the Cup, that’s a victory all race fans can enjoy.